A reader who took care of the expenses of a property she shared with her ex-husband wants to know what she can do about his claim for half the value of the house.
They were married in community of property and bought the house together. They divorced after six years but lived together for a further 17 years in the same house.
During this time the reader says she paid the bond and also took care of other expenses relating to the property. When she was retrenched at one stage she paid her retirement fund benefits into the bond.
There was never any agreement relating to the division of the property and the ex-husband is now claiming half of its value.
See the reader’s question here.
When a couple are married in community of property they become owners of each asset forming part of the joint estate in undivided half shares.
This means that if there are four chairs each owns an undivided half share in each chair and it’s not the case that two chairs belong to the one spouse and two to the other.
In the event of divorce there is usually some agreement as to how assets are divided between the parties.
In the absence of such an agreement, the parties simply remain joint owners of each and every asset.
A house is no different. For the 17 years since the divorce they have remained joint owners of the property with responsibility for its maintenance and other costs.
There are various ways of resolving this problem, one being that the one owner may offer to buy the other’s interest at a market-related price.
But if the reader believes she contributed more than her share of the expenses she may argue that her claim against her ex-husband for his half share of the expenses be calculated into the purchase price.
Another option is to sell the property to a third party, with the proceeds split fifty-fifty.
The reader may institute a claim against her ex-husband over contributions she has made in terms of expenses and bond payments, but it is difficult to know if she will be successful.
For instance, he may claim that she has donated her contributions, especially if the issue was never raised and terms of repayment were not discussed.
Unfortunately these types of arrangements are very seldom recorded and only once there is conflict does the basis upon which the arrangement rested come into question.
The importance of a comprehensive written agreement in respect of jointly owned property cannot be stressed enough.
When a situation suits both parties, there is typically little or no problem, but a change in circumstances of one or both parties will often lead to friction and possible litigation.
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